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Letters to Pergamum, Thyatira, and Sardis

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul
The Truth Network Radio
June 8, 2023 12:01 am

Letters to Pergamum, Thyatira, and Sardis

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul

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June 8, 2023 12:01 am

Those who stand on the stable foundation of Christ will withstand the coming judgment. Today, W. Robert Godfrey examines how the letters of Revelation encourage Christians to remain steadfast in a compromising world.

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So, here is a very interesting picture of Jesus searching the church, distinguishing in the church among those who are holding faithfully and those who are wandering. And what he's calling on here is that Christians should not move from the truth. They should follow their Savior.

They should stand firm to the end on what they are committed to. How much do we care about truth? Are we as concerned about false teaching and false practices in the church as Jesus is? Hi, I'm Nathan W. Bingham, and thank you for joining us today for Renewing Your Mind. Jesus has very strong language in his letters to the churches in Pergamum, Thyatira and Sardis, as error has crept in and some are being deceived. Today, Ligonier teaching fellow, W. Robert Godfrey, unpacks these three letters in the book of Revelation, and he urges us to hold fast to the revealed Word of God.

Here's Dr. Godfrey. We return now to our look at this first cycle in the book of the Revelation, the letters to the seven churches, and we're to the third letter to the church in Pergamum. And to the angel of the church of Pergamum write, the words of Him who has the sharp two-edged sword, I know where you live, where Satan's throne is, yet you hold fast My name and you did not deny My faith even in the days of Antipas, My faithful witness who was killed among you where Satan dwells.

But I have a few things against you. You have some there who hold the teachings of Balaam who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel so that they might eat food sacrificed to idols and practice sexual immorality. So also you have some who hold the teaching of the Nicolaitans, therefore repent. If not, I will come to you soon and war against them with the sword of My mouth. He who has an ear to hear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.

To the one who conquers, I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone with a new name written on the stone that no one knows except the one who receives it. Here now we come to these three churches that are partly commended and partly criticized. And the church in Pergamum did face, I was going to say uniquely difficult, but certainly a very difficult situation. Pergamum was an important city, a prominent city, and it was a local Roman capital. So there was a very strong imperial presence in the city, and that put strain on the Christian community.

If the civil government decided to persecute Christians, in some places they had to send out persecution letters or persecutors. But here in Pergamum there's already a strong Roman presence and power, and so Christians were at risk. Also in Pergamum was a very large temple to Zeus.

And so it was one of these cities where the presence of the pagan religion was particularly powerful economically as well as spiritually. And so there was a lot of pressure on the church in Pergamum, and that's why Jesus says to that church in verse 13 of chapter 2, I know where you live, where Satan's throne is. That may be a dual reference both to the political power, the throne of Rome, but also Zeus was usually portrayed sitting at a throne.

So here is a kind of double reference to what was going on there and the pressures that they found themselves under. And the great call then is not to be drawn into idolatry, and then that is often linked to immorality. It's just one word in Greek, immorality, and often in English it's translated sexual immorality, and it certainly can have that sense. But sometimes immorality in the Bible just means idolatry. So it's not two separate sins. It's two words for the same sin, and we're not exactly sure if that's true here. Is it just warning against idolatry, which is spiritual adultery, or is it two problems? The bigger problem here certainly seems to be the temptation of idolatry. And there's been a prominent martyr there well known to the church, Antipas, and it's interesting that the Lord preserves his name here.

We don't know much about Antipas, but we know he was a faithful martyr of Christ and that the Lord remembers him and commemorates him here. Then we find another interesting phenomenon in the book, the taking of Old Testament concepts and using them symbolically to apply to a New Testament situation. So here the reference is to Balaam who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel. Here's a reference to the wandering in the wilderness, to the temptation of the Baal of Peor, the curse pronounced upon Israel. And you know, if we're understanding this literally, are we to suppose that Balaam and Balak were resurrected for this occasion to come to the city of Pergamum?

No, of course not. What John is saying on behalf of Jesus is this same kind of phenomenon of trying to curse the people of God, of trying to lead them astray into false worship that happened in the wilderness is now happening again, and we have to recognize these temptations that come again and again and to avoid them. And here is the second place where the Nicolaitans are mentioned. We'll come back to that if you're very, very good. That will be your treat. And so here is the promise that the Lord will help them, that the Lord will save them when they repent, the call to listen to the call to repentance, and the promise that if they persevere He will give them some of the hidden manna, again a reference to the wilderness experience, how God sustains His people with the bread of heaven. And of course, John wrote for us the great chapter 6 of John's gospel on Christ's declaration that He was the bread of heaven come down to earth and that He feeds us with Himself. And I will give Him a white stone with a new name written on the stone that no one knows except the one who receives it. Again, Dr. Biel suggests that this white stone was probably a reference to the jury practice of deciding whether someone was innocent or guilty, and if you were found innocent you were given a white stone, or they used the white stone to vote about innocence or guilt. And so it's a reference to that that the Lord, if you repent, will find you innocent, and that innocence will be declared to your soul and objectively true and should be a great encouragement to you to persevere and to follow the Lord. So here we have then the third letter. Then we come to the church at Thyatira, the fourth church, and it's a longish letter compared with some of the other letters. And to the angel of the church in Thyatira write the words of the Son of God who has eyes like a flame of fire and whose feet are like burnished bronze. I know your works, your love and faith and service and patient endurance, and that your latter works exceed the first. But I have this against you, that you tolerate that woman Jezebel who calls herself a prophetess and is teaching and seducing my servants to practice sexual immorality and to eat food sacrificed to idols.

I gave her time to repent, but she refuses to repent of her sexual immorality. Behold, I will throw her into a sickbed, and those who commit adultery with her I will throw into great tribulation unless they repent of her works. And I will strike her children dead, and all the churches will know that I am He who searches mind and heart, and I will give to each of you according to your works. But to the rest of you in Thyatira who do not hold this teaching, who have not heard what some call the deep things of Satan, to you I say I do not lay on you any other burden. Only hold fast what you have until I come. The one who conquers and who keeps my works until the end, to him I will give authority over the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron as when the earthen pots are broken in pieces, even as I myself have received authority from my Father.

And I will give him the morning star. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches." Well, there are several interesting things here in this letter, as Ephesus was the letter about love and Smyrna the letter about life, and we could perhaps say Pergamum the letter about judgment. If we wanted a single word, we might say Thyatira is the letter about searching. Jesus identifies himself as the Son of God who has eyes like a flame of fire. He's using his eyes to search out who they are, to recognize who they are, to evaluate who they are and how they're living.

And those searching eyes find that there's much to commend, their love, their faith, their service, their patient endurance, that your latter works exceed the first. So there's a lot good going on in Thyatira, but I have this against you, that you tolerate that woman Jezebel. Now here again Jezebel is not resurrected from the dead in the Old Testament, but what Jesus is saying to the church is that this teacher, we assume it's a woman, but sometimes you might raise a question about that just because so much of this is symbolism. So a few women want to fight back, say, no, no, no, the female part is just symbolic.

It's really a man who's doing this. But anyway, or if you want more women in the Bible, here's one, but maybe not the one you want to identify with. But the real point here is that there is a teacher who is doing the destructive work of Jezebel, and the destructive work of Jezebel was to try to get the people of Israel not only to worship God but also to worship Baal. And it's interesting, later in the letter he talks about those who are interested in the deep things, and in the whole history of the church, one of the ways that people get into trouble is they listen to teachers who say, oh, you know, all the stuff you've learned is true and good, but I have deeper things for you, I have deeper things for you.

And that seems to be what this Jezebel is doing. You know, all that ordinary Christianity that John taught you is fine, it's true, but there's more, I have more for you. And it might almost be, in terms of what's being said here, is that the more is you're more free than you thought. Now Jesus came to make us free, free from the condemnation of the law, free from the obligation to follow all the Mosaic ceremonial law. For, freedom Christ has made us free, Paul said, you know we are so free that if we worship idols and eat food dedicated to them, it can't hurt us. We are so free if we commit adultery, it can't hurt us.

That's the deeper knowledge of freedom than you ever had before. That seems to be what this Jezebel has been teaching, and Jesus has come to confront His people with that, and what we see here is a church divided. And I said earlier that part of what is interesting in these letters is that the whole church doesn't stand or fall together. Churches can lose their lampstand, churches can be lost as a whole, but that doesn't mean everyone in the church will be lost. So it's both the church and the individual that has to be faithful, and in Thyatira we see people being commended for being faithful even though they're in the midst of some who have not done all that they could do and should do to keep the church pure.

So here is a very interesting picture of Jesus searching the church, distinguishing in the church among those who are holding faithfully and those who are wandering. You notice that Jesus not only searches with His eyes, but He's described as the one whose feet have burnished bronze. Now what's the advantage of having bronze feet?

Well I find the older I get, the tippier I get. All of a sudden I think, wait a minute, I've got to rebalance or I'm going to fall right over. I could use some burnished bronze shoes, except then I wouldn't be able to walk at all. This is a picture of the stability of Jesus, the solidity of His foundation, of how He does not move from the truth, and what He's calling on here is that Christians should not move from the truth. They should follow their Savior. They should stand firm to the end on what they are committed to. That's what we see in verse 25, only hold fast what you have until I come.

We don't need secret things from private teachers. We need the public teaching of the Word of God, which is apostolic, and that's plenty to stand on until Jesus comes again. And then He promises that we'll have rule, and that rule, both of Jesus and that's going to be given to us, is expressed in what our society would call pretty stern terms. Verse 23, and I will strike her children dead. That's Jesus.

Now by children there, He's not really referring to the chronologically young. He's referring to the followers of the Jezebel if they don't repent. And then He says, those who follow Him will rule them, verse 27, with a rod of iron, as when earth and pots are broken in pieces. There's an allusion to Psalm 2, right?

He will rule them with a rod of iron. And this is not a message that the world wants to hear from Christianity. It's not a message that most of the church wants to hear. It's not a message that necessarily makes us feel comfortable.

And I think if we said that to Jesus, He would smile and say, I didn't actually come to make you feel comfortable. I came to tell you the truth, and the truth is there's going to be a judgment, and it's going to be a serious judgment, and it's going to be a terrible judgment for those who are outside of me. And as I think I've said in one class before, I feel like in some churches today there's sort of the attitude that says, you know, if we will only all agree that there is no hell, then there won't be a hell. The truth is if no one on the face of the earth believed in hell, there's still a hell.

And that's what's revealed here. There is a judgment coming. Will you stand in the judgment or not stand in the judgment? How can you stand in the judgment? You can stand in the judgment if you stand in Jesus. That's the great truth being taught here.

It's a very serious truth. That's personally one of the reasons I love to sing the Psalms. The Psalms make you face these hard things and think about them and realize that unless we see how desperate our need is, we don't really appreciate how glorious the Savior is. If it was easy to save us, then He's not that much of a Savior.

But since it's not easy to save us and because the risk to us is so great, then we see how great He is as a Savior. And then Jesus, you know, there's not a lot of humor in the Bible. I wonder if Jesus just a little bit smiled at verse 28, and I will give Him the Morning Star. One of the things Jesus promises to you is that He will give you a Morning Star.

Are you looking forward to that? Does it mean anything at all? What does it mean that Jesus promises to give us the Morning Star? Well, God forced Balaam to declare as a prophet that God's coming Messiah would be the Morning Star. And so having condemned Balaam in the previous letter, now He quotes Balaam, I think maybe just a little bit of a smile, to say Balaam didn't get everything wrong. I am the Morning Star, and therefore you will be Morning Stars. And it's a wonderful sort of promise of how God will appoint us to be lights in the world as we reflect Jesus.

So there's a lot going on here. We can't do all of it, but it should really encourage us, as it should really have encouraged them as to how much of a blessing Jesus is going to be providing for His people. And then the fifth letter to Sardis, wow, we're already into chapter 3.

We're moving along at such a breakneck speed. Chapter 3, the letter to Sardis, and to the angel of the church in Sardis write, the words of him who has seven spirits of God and the seven stars, I know your works. You have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead. Wake up and strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your works complete in the sight of my God.

Remember then what you received and heard, keep it and repent. If you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come against you. Yet you still have a few names in Sardis, people who have not soiled their garments, and they will walk with me in white, for they are worthy. The one who conquers will be clothed thus in white garments, and I will never blot his name out of the book of life. I will confess his name before my father and before his angels, he who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.

And here, the letter to Sardis is a letter about holiness, an appeal to holiness, an appeal that they would purify their works by repenting. He says they are asleep. Wake up, he says, wake up.

The night is far spent. And it's interesting, he alludes to what we read in Matthew, don't we, that Jesus will come as a thief in the night, and a lot of people will be asleep. And Jesus appeals to members of the church, don't be one of those who are sleeping.

Don't be one of those who miss the glory of my return. Again, there are a number of things happening here. He specifically links the seven spirits of God to the seven stars of the churches and is talking about how the Holy Spirit will be in them and with them if they repent. And he commends the few who are there who are doing what is right. And he says, they have not soiled their garments, they walk with me in white, for they are worthy. Remember, he was described in chapter 1 as dressed in white. And he's now saying, they walk with me in white. They're worthy because he's made them worthy. They have white because he's given them the garments of white.

That was one of the things that R.C. always was so sensitive to, how we have new garments, new clothes. We're now clothed anew in the righteousness of Christ. And that's what's being said here, that those who've repented, those who have drawn near to Christ are those dressed like him in white. And then he says, and I will never blot his name out of the book of life. This I think is an allusion to Psalm 69. You know, we talk about imprecatory psalms, psalms that have curses in them. And the worst curse I think in the whole of the Psalter is in Psalm 69 where the psalmist's praise blot them out of the book of life.

That's really awful, isn't it? I think the book of life there is the book of the covenant. People who are part of the covenant, people of God, but they have so betrayed the covenant that they're no longer really part of the covenant. And what Jesus is saying here is, I'll never pray that you'd be blotted out of the book of life because you're my covenant people who trust me, who turn to me, who repent of your sins, and find your life within me. And so this is a beautiful but also arresting call to holiness and to live for Him. And then Jesus says, I will confess the name of those who trust me before the Father and before His angels. So we see this commitment of the Savior.

I think it's a powerful picture. Sometimes I think we picture Jesus as having died for us on the cross, risen from the grave, and then given us all these gifts, and then not so personally maybe still connected to us. And this is such a beautiful picture of His personal connection to us. He knows us. He cares for us. He calls to us. He walks with us.

He clothes us, and He promises that He will confess us before His Father who is in heaven. So you see how all of this is an encouragement. It's a warning at times, but the function of the warning is always to encourage, always to strengthen, always to draw closer to Christ. And that's why as we go along, I think we will see that this is indeed a book of blessings. And so next time we'll be able to come to the last two letters in this opening cycle. That was Ligonier Teaching Fellow W. Robert Godfrey from his study of the book of Revelation, Blessed Hope.

You're listening to Renewing Your Mind. All week we have been considering the seven letters to the seven churches in Revelation, but there's so much more in this series. From the trumpets to the beasts, the plagues and coming judgment. And you can study it all when you request your copy of Blessed Hope at We'll send you this complete 24-part series on DVD and give you digital access to all of the messages and the study guide.

So give your gift at or by calling us at 800 435 4343. As Dr. Godfrey has argued, this is not a book to be hidden, but it is a revealing, a revelation. So study the book of Revelation further when you request your copy of his series, Blessed Hope at Where do we get the expression lukewarm Christian or the image of Jesus standing at the door and knocking? Well, they both come from the letter to the church in Laodicea. And that's the letter that we'll be considering tomorrow here on Renewing Your Mind.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-06-08 03:52:37 / 2023-06-08 04:02:12 / 10

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